The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Confiscated books

In what I'm afraid will be a regular feature, I'd like to mention a few books that were recently confiscated from Cairo book stores. The Arabist has already mentioned Egypt's first graphic novel, by Magdy Al Shafaa'ee (a selection from which was published at Words Without Borders). The reason for this confiscation is officially a charge of "offending public morality" but it most likely has to do with the identity of the publisher, Mohammed Sharqawy (an activist whose torture in 2006 by police became a cause célèbre).

The other is a little book called "عشان ما تنضربش علي قفاك," or "So As Not To Be Hit On the Back of Your Neck". (To hit someone on the back of the neck is a gesture of deep disrespect--a big "fuck you"--in Egyptian culture.) It's a manual, in Colloquial Egyptian Arabic, by a former police officer and lawyer, explaining their rights to Egyptian citizens and giving them advice on how to deal with the police. It's written in question and answer format, and addresses questions such as when the police have the right to search you, when they have the right to take you to the station, etc. Of course it's terribly revealing that the Egyptian authorities have confiscated a book that does nothing but inform citizens of their legal rights (the tone of the book is carefully respectful of the police). 

Also, let me just explain that these books were confiscated, not banned. Al Azhar has the authority to censure books that deal with religious topics, but other than that In Egypt there is no agency with the mandate to ban books. What happens, though, is that if a book is charged with "disturbing the public order," "defaming Egypt," or some such nonsense, then state security confiscates the book from the market while the investigation and eventual court case takes place. I'm not sure if this confiscation is legal or not. What I do know is that "confiscated" books are often still available--book sellers and newspaper vendors hide them away, then sell them ("Psst, I have a hot book for you!") at a slightly inflated price. It's actually often a boost to the book's sales.